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Health Care is Serious Business

doctor with orange tie and stethoscope

By Roanna Flowers

The issues affecting the business of health care are much more complex than even the latest season of "Game of Thrones" and often just as confusing. There is a greater need for health care professionals who have a higher business acumen than ever before. Transforming our current health care system into one that is safer, more efficient, and more accessible requires disciplines working together and cooperating in ways unheard of just a couple of years ago.

Of course, health care isn't the only sector of the economy where that is true. In 2008, Halliburton, the oilfield services and equipment giant, recognized its own need to recruit science, technology, engineering, and math students who also had strong business acumen. Texas Business Foundations Summer Institute at the McCombs School of Business benefitted from a generous grant from Halliburton to create an eight-week, 15-credit boot camp-style intensive program targeting the top undergraduate students from across the campus.

Now, in addition to its regular business intensives, the institute is turning its attention to health care. This summer, it partnered with the College of Natural Sciences Health Professions Office and Health Informatics and Health IT (HIT) program to create the inaugural Business of Healthcare certificate program. This new program mirrors the standard summer intensive, but adds health-care specific elements and lectures led by faculty from McCombs and the College of Natural Sciences.

This marked the first collaboration between the institute and the HIT program. An ongoing collaboration between the McCombs School of Business and the College of Natural Sciences will create tremendous value for students and for the local medical community.

Kristie Loescher, management lecturer with the McCombs School of Business"Increasing the number of health care professionals with business knowledge provides an awesome talent pool for the HIT certificate program as well as the professional schools and health industry employers," says Kristie Loescher, management lecturer with the McCombs School of Business and the Business Foundations Program.

The inaugural class, which started on June 2 and ended July 31, had 50 students from a wide spectrum of disciplines.

Together Everyone Accomplishes More 

Having students from a variety of majors learning to collaborate early in their careers in a boot-camp or incubator-like setting will be an important part of changing the way medicine does business. 

Dr. Cynthia Linardos agrees. The guest lecturer with the HIT program is one of several College of Natural Sciences faculty participating in this summer's Business of Healthcare program. For those students with an interest in clinical practice, Linardos says the collaboration ensures those students "will be bringing everything they are learning about business to their clinical training."

Robert Ligon, who is also on the faculty with the HIT program, spoke to the students about the triple aim of health care and provided an overview of the Affordable Care Act. He acknowledges the industry is in transition. "We are in the process of re-inventing health care," Ligon says. "And so to have an incubator for reinventing health care — and having people with new insights but without the traditional baggage — is really important," says Ligon.

That reinvention will require greater and greater collaboration, not just between medical care teams but at every step of the process, including patient-doctor and patient-family-doctor relationships.

"In the real world, you need to understand how the business disciplines interconnect, and our program provides that education," says Loescher.

"Departments should be collaborating and fostering teamwork," says Linardos. "That's what team building is: together, everyone accomplishes more."

Learning by Doing

Cam Houser, MBA '10Nowhere was that cooperation and collaboration more strongly emphasized than in the 3 Day Startup (3DS) component of the Business of Healthcare program. 3DS is an entrepreneurship-focused organization that started out at The University of Texas at Austin as a student organization in 2008, founded by Cam Houser, MBA '10. (It has since expanded its program to other schools across North America, Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.)

The 3DS component created a boot camp within a boot camp, giving students an intense, hands-on entrepreneurial experience. Students formed teams, identified a pain in the health care market, created and pitched a potential solution, and by the third day had created an initial prototype. 

Because the health care 3DS program was focused on collaboration rather than competition, it gave the students a great deal of flexibility and creativity in how they approached their projects. "They were sharing ideas and getting resources and ideas from each other. It gave them exposure to other disciplines and perspectives and identifying what their solution was going to be," says Karen Landolt, lecturer with the Department of Business, Government and Society as well as the Business Foundation Program.

In the final weeks of the program, students also interviewed potential customers and competitors, experts in the field, and engaged in additional research to create a pitch to an angel investor.

Kandace Kurth, a nutrition major

Kandace Kurth, a nutrition major, is hoping to work with companies to create continued healthy living programs for their employees, an aspiration that was strengthened by the Business of Healthcare program. "This program opened my eyes to ways I can market myself to a company," says Kurth.

Samantha Mielke, a senior nursing student, agrees: "Having to work in teams definitely helped my future professional career." Mielke plans on working at a hospital in an intensive care unit. "There were things I learned that might have taken me years in the real world to learn on my own, but having them now saves me and my future employer time and money."

They also found tremendous value in the 3DS program. "There is rarely a set period where lectures are put aside and students are given the freedom to collectively apply much of what they’ve learned into a creative idea," Kurth says. "Overall, it gave me the confidence to feel like I could start my own business."

"When else would we, as students, have the opportunity to experiment and create and receive feedback?" Mielke says. "It was a golden opportunity."

It's an opportunity that some students can't wait to take. "One of the teams plans on taking their app to the 3 Day Longhorn Startup in November, to further develop their idea," Landolt says. 

The Texas Business Foundations Summer Institute hopes to expand the Business of Healthcare program to two cohorts in 2015. Interested undergraduate students can apply starting October 1. 

To learn more about McCombs and health care, visit the McCombs Healthcare Initiative online or follow the Initiative on Twitter @McCombsHealth.

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